“The Saints in Scandinavia,” Ensign, July 1974, 28
On August 16, 17, and 18, the thousands of Saints who gather in Stockholm’s International Fair and Congress Centre to hear the General Authorities of the Church will represent the more than 15,600 members of the Church from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. They also represent a missionary tradition stretching back 135 years to 1849 when the first missionaries were called to Scandinavia, and they have the further distinction of having the fourth Church Area General Conference in their area.
What does it mean to be a member of the Church in Scandinavia? What are the challenges, the rewards? How do they solve the problem—everyone’s problem—of being in a world they cannot be part of?
The Ensign is deeply grateful to all the people who have so willingly shared their information in this article: Regional Representatives and mission presidents, past and present; returned missionaries; the Church Historical Department; members of Translation Services of the Church; and especially the Saints themselves for their testimonies and their willingness to share them.
The map below identifies chapels in the cities named.
The Ensign thanks the numerous Saints who have provided information for these articles, including:
Erik Andersen, Inger Andersson, Bertil Benjaminsson, Birgitta Bergkvist, Rachel Björklund, Erik S. Brammer, Eric Brodin, Flemming Bundgaard, Don L. Christensen, Hans Christian Christansen, Elder James Deans, Ernest Eklof;
Leif Eriksson, Henning K. Frederikson, Hilmar Freidel, Kiirka-Lissa Folkersen, Maud Grahn, Doyle L. Green, Mats Hallden, Margit Hagestam, Birgit Hedberg, Asmund Hernes, Solveig Hess, Inger Hoglund, Grant R. Ipsen, Mr. and Mrs. J. Ellis Israelsson, Richard Jenson, Carl-Erik Johansson, Reid Johnson, Sven Karlsson;
Bengt Karn, Harriet Klarin, Christer O. Larsson, Anna B. Lindback, Britt-Louise Lindblom, Jorgen Ljungstrom, George Lundgren, Erling Magnesen, Bjorn Magnusson, Erik Nilsson, George Nilsson, Einar Norlander, Hakan Palm, Paul L. Pehrson, Robert B. Pehrson, Elder Russell Petersen;
Torbjorn Pettersson, Bessie Reese, Ulla Mariana Rosander, Siv Roskvist, Josstein Rossby, Kari Ruud, Gunnar Simonsson, Herbert B. Spencer, Mrs. Rut Stenstrom-Jonsson, Mrs. Ann C. Stewart, Elder Grant Stewart, Albert H. Vedeler, Orson B. West, and Albert L. Zobell, Jr.
Denmark, Scandinavia’s smallest country, faces the North Sea with competence and courage, two national characteristics needed to deal with so restless a neighbor. “Sea” defines much of the country: its highest point is only 568 feet above sea level, its land mass includes a peninsula and some 500 islands, the coastline is 4,622 miles long, and no Dane lives more than 35 miles from the coast.
Denmark is one-seventh the size of Norway and one-tenth the size of Sweden, but it suddenly expands to more than twice their combined size if you add its North Atlantic realm—Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Although Denmark lacks coal and iron deposits, about two-thirds of its fertile land produces food, much of it for export; it also has become a major processor of raw goods. The largest shipyard in Europe is on the Island of Funen.
Material prosperity has caused general spiritual problems throughout Denmark. One Danish father, Jorgen Ljungstrom, describes his family before the missionaries contacted them: “We did not concern ourselves much about the spiritual life, but tried to make life comfortable for ourselves.”
Throughout Denmark there is relatively little interest in religion. Attendance at the state Lutheran church is only about 2 percent, according to Regional Representative and former Mission President Don L. Christensen.
Hans Christian Christensen, a Dane serving a mission in his own country, calls prosperity “one of the greatest trials we have.” The government pays for most medical, dental, and educational expenses, as well as for unemployment compensation and old-age pensions, but it takes a whopping bite of taxes; a minimum 40 percent, frequently higher. Sales tax is another 15 percent, and prices are not low to begin with.
After a Danish Saint contributes Church offerings, he performs the monthly miracle of living on about 32 percent of his income.
But Danes, unlike other Scandinavian members, can deduct their tithing from their income tax if they make a prior contact with the government, and, according to a former mission president, Paul L. Pehrson, “Total tithing increased 45 percent from 1969 to 1972.”
This faithfulness has helped construct Denmark’s 18 beautiful chapels. The proud members keep them spotless, says President Pehrson.
Like most Scandinavian countries, Denmark’s freewheeling laws on pornography and morality threaten homes already imperiled by economic conditions that make having more than three children a sacrifice and send a majority of mothers out of the home to work.
President Pehrson calls one section of downtown Copenhagen “a Sodom and Gomorrah situation” and praises the efforts of young Mormons to live gospel standards. “At the age of 14 or 15 they have to resist temptations that most people never see in their entire lives.” Sex education starts in kindergarten; the legal age of consent is 14; and the illegitimate birth rate is about 25 percent.
Elder Flemming Bundgaard, a Danish missionary serving in Denmark, describes the problems involved in keeping the Word of Wisdom: “In Denmark, it’s like this: if you don’t drink, you’re not an adult yet.” Youngsters start smoking when they feel like it—frequently at the age of eight or nine. President Christensen adds that many employers offer a daily beer as a “fringe benefit.”
Youths keep busy all year around. Brigham Young University Folkdancers taught Danish teenagers some dances in 1966, and the idea caught on. A group of young people from the Copenhagen North Branch meets weekly in its own “milk bar” for European classical dancing and American square dancing. This group also dances for schools, government agencies, youth conferences, and festivals. Henning K. Frederiksen, first counselor in the mission presidency, explains that all Danish districts have large dance teams and compose their own numbers.
A five-year-old camping program has about 50 girls each year working for campcrafter certificates.
The year-old seminary program for the 14- to 25-year-olds has about 75 young people participating, with an average attendance of 80 percent. And in 1972 there were 18 native Danish missionaries serving in Denmark, England, Germany, and Norway. Convert baptisms in Denmark have varied between 50 and 200 annually, since 1966.
Most members try to go to the temple once a year. Entire branches travel by bus, camp near Basel, spend the days doing endowment and baptism work, and then gather for huge campfires that attract crowds of nonmembers at night.
President Pehrson sees “a bright future” for Denmark. He calls it “a wonderfully sweet, green little land that’s been preserved for some great people.”
One strong testimony comes from young Elder Christensen: “Thousands of miles separate us from our prophet, but I wish to let President Spencer W. Kimball and the rest of the leaders know that you are indeed loved and dear to the Latter-day Saints here in Denmark. Even though there are distance and communication difficulties, we still feel with joy in our hearts that you are also our prophet.”
Shaped like a club with its top bent over, Norway extends almost 1,100 miles, spanning the same latitude as Point Barrow to Juneau in Alaska. Only about 5 percent of the land is tillable, and most of that is the rolling terrain in the south, where innumerable tiny farms are tucked into the steep fjordlands.
About a quarter of Norway is forested. Two-thirds of the country’s four million people live along the coast, where the temperature is moderated by a warm gulf current.
North of Narvik, on the 68th parallel, trees give way to moorland, tundra, and glacial ice. This is Lapland, extending from the west coast of Norway across Sweden and Finland into the Soviet Union. Twenty-two thousand of the 36,000 Lapps live in Norway, tending reindeer, fishing, or engaging in limited lumbering, mining, and farming.
The words “breathtaking” and “spectacular” are inadequate to describe Norway’s 12,000-mile coastline, laced with fjords, virgin forests, crystal lakes, precipitous rock cliffs, and glaciers that move invisibly.
Such rhapsody is no exaggeration of the intense affinity Norwegians feel for their land. Most have access to woodland or seaside cottages and spend their weekends and vacations in these scenic hideaways. Skiing and mountain walking are common pleasures, and, true to the Norse heritage, boating is another favorite pastime.
A spatial orientation of Norway helps explain the logistics of traveling in the Norway Mission. The Oslo, Drammen, and Bergen districts, with their nine independent branches, are centered in the populous south. But the Trondheim District, with one independent branch and several dependent branches, extends northward from about the 63rd parallel to the Arctic.
One Trondheim Branch member, Josstein Rossby from Alta in Finmark County, finds his employment with Scandinavian Airlines a special blessing. Since his baptism in 1970, he has been able to meet with members in other parts of the country and come to general conferences, although his branch president lives 700 miles away and the mission president lives 225 miles farther.
Another member, Asmund Hernes, mission Sunday School president and a banker, lives in Jessheim, and remembers living at Mosjøen on the 66th parallel for three years as the only Latter-day Saint family.
There are only 3,000 members of the Church among Norway’s four million people, and most of them live in the Oslo area. However, to attend district conference in Bergen means either a plane trip or an all-night boat ride for many. Some Trondheim District members are 1,000 miles from district headquarters. Still, every Sunday School was represented at the last district conference.
Living in the Land of theMidnight Sun requires some adaptation by its inhabitants. At North Cape the sun never sets from May 12 to August 1, but it never comes up for two long winter months, either. Even in the extreme south, a midwinter night is 17 1/2 hours long, and Sunday School may be held in darkness.
All building projects are tightly regulated in Norway, where construction of bomb shelters is required for all public buildings, Latter-day Saint chapels included.
Building up the Church in Norway is difficult, partly because of emigration. By 1930, more than 8,500 Norwegians had accepted the gospel and 3,500 of those had emigrated to Utah. But the Norwegian Saints have accepted this challenge as they have the others posed by their society. Dean A. Peterson, Regional Representative and former Norway Mission president, sees four difficult areas:
First, it requires tremendous dedication to stay active in view of the dominance of the state church. The Latter-day Saint Church is not recognized as Christian; members cannot perform marriages, register Boy Scouts, or conduct funeral services without state supervision. Only birth certificates issued by Lutheran priests are recognized.
Second, members suffer the stigma of being called “strange” and are often discriminated against when seeking employment.
Third, Norwegian Saints must continue to support the state church and are not allowed to deduct tithing from their income tax. Minimum federal taxes are 42 percent.
But the “greatest challenge,” according to Elder Peterson, is the same for Saints everywhere—to “let their light so shine that their countrymen will recognize the influence of the gospel in their lives.”
President Albert H. Vedeler of the Bergen District explains: “In Norway, every family with children under 16 depends on the state for child support and rent support. No matter how much a person earns, his income is insufficient without some form of government subsidy.”
Second jobs may be taxed up to 74 percent, says Brother Vedeler, expressing the frustration of honest and industrious members of the Church.
In spite of these frustrations, there is new strength and even excitement among the Saints in Norway. Whole families are coming into the Church, binding themselves closer through the family home evening program. Younger members, grasping the full meaning of the gospel, are taking responsible positions in the branches and, unafraid, are sharing the gospel with their friends. Auxiliaries are following the Church programs more effectively. There is a greater effort to marry within the Church, more devotion to Church duties on Sunday, more faithful home teaching, less inclination to be away from home on weekends.
Sister Kari Ruud, who is going to school in Oslo to become a teacher, says, “I am sure that our faith is tried harder here than in many other places, but isn’t that only a blessing and a help to build a strong testimony? I am happy for every challenge I receive.
“One often hears or reads about people who have had a great spiritual experience,” Sister Ruud continues, “but I have not had such an experience. After my conversion, I’ve learned little by little to see the influence of the Spirit in the many experiences that I live through daily.”
The Swedes love nature. When they construct buildings, trees and rocks are left in place if at all possible to hint of a much-revered rural life. Most families own a summerhouse where they spend their vacations and many weekends during the sunny season. Members of the Church are usually the only ones who return to the city on Saturday nights, brought home by their enthusiastic spirits and an acute awareness of their missionary responsibilities.
And the challenges in Sweden are many. The country is snowbound from October to April, covered with large, fluffy flakes that are sometimes 18 inches deep from a single storm. The Saints bundle up and come to meetings anyway.
With more women members than men and a great volume of work to do, priesthood leaders in Sweden assign several jobs to each eligible Church member. As Mats Hallden of Norberg said, “Well, if you want to work, come here!”
The Church is “a large family” where everyone looks out for his “brothers and sisters.” This attitude was evidenced by members of the Stenungsund Branch, where Bengt Kärn and his family were investigating the gospel.
“The members backed the missionaries 100 percent,” recalls Brother Kärn, now president of a Stockholm branch. “They fasted and prayed for us, they visited us frequently and invited us to their homes, and above all, they were good examples for us to follow.”
When the Kärns decided to be baptized, the entire branch accompanied them to Göteborg, crowded together in their few automobiles. “But no one would stay home,” President Kärn says. “We felt that these wonderful, humble people really were our brothers and sisters.”
Branch support helped a plump sister who could not get permission from her husband to be baptized. He finally bargained: if she would lose a certain number of pounds, he would sign the consent papers.
“It was a long struggle,” she remembers, “but all the sisters of the branch encouraged me until I had lost the required amount. Then they all came to the baptism. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.”
In a country where citizens pay 55 percent of their income in taxes, tithing takes on a special meaning: members share beautifully simple, yet strong testimonies.
“Since the day of my baptism I have paid tithing,” emphasizes Rachel Björklund of Göteborg. “We are not wealthy at all, but we have never been without any essential things. The Lord has many ways to open his windows of heaven.”
Sister Björklund recalls times when she has found it impossible to buy clothing for her growing children. “I hardly realize that one of our children needs a new coat or skirt or anything before we get it from a member, a friend, or even a neighbor. And that has happened many times, and mostly we get exactly what we need, in the right size.”
One man, before joining the Church, was unable to support his family, even though he and his wife both worked full time. Now, since paying a full tithe, he has purchased his own home, bought a car, and is contributing to a savings account every month. And his wife feels it is more important to stay home with their children than to work.
That attitude sets LDS families apart. Most of Sweden’s women work while government centers care for children over the age of six months.
Sister Britt-Louise Lindblöm was tempted to work after marriage, but resisted: “It is not fairto have others raise our children. We want to be able to say to our Heavenly Father, ‘These children were given to us and not one has gone astray.’”
Distances are another challenge that Swedish Saints conquer. It costs about $100 to travel the almost 2,000 miles to the Swiss Temple; but most go twice a year and each performs about 20 endowments for the dead.
Most members must travel great distances to attend church, too. Two years ago, one family in Stockholm had to spend over $50 a month to attend church. Even though Sweden has a good public transportation system, the cost is too high for regular travel to church, so most squeeze together, sometimes 11 or 12 in one car.
Sister Inger Andersson of Eslöv, who drives almost 50 miles round trip to church, says, “Many say to me that it is a pity I have so far to drive, but I answer them that it is with great pleasure I make this drive. I see the greatness of the Lord in this changing creation, a beautiful summer morning when the grain stands yellow and ripe, and everything in full bloom, or a cold autumn day when the wind has swept the sky clean and one can see wide around in the clear, blue air; or a winter morning when the sun shines. And after the winter comes the spring, when everything is light green and nature and its colors change every day.”
The “family” feeling extends beyond Sweden’s national boundaries to include brothers and sisters around the world. “As there are different cultures, customs, and usages in different countries, we might feel and think differently concerning worldly things, but in the gospel we are influenced by the same spirit, which brings us to unity in faith,” says George Nilsson, head of the Translation Services Department in Stockholm.
A Swedish missionary, Elder James H. Deans, summed up the feeling precisely: “A testimony of God is the same in any language.”
Approximately three-quarters of Finland is forested, an environmental fact of life reflected in the nation’s labor scene, where one-third of the people make a living in forestry industries. Of Finland’s 130,000 square miles, only 10 percent is cultivated, and another 10 percent is rivers and lakes, not counting the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia, which comprise the country’s south and southeast borders.
Fishing, naturally, is both an industry and a recreation, according to Pertti Felin, a schoolteacher and supervisor of the Finland Mission Translation Services Department. Other leisure pursuits include Finnish baseball (persapällo), soccer, hiking, hunting, skiing, and skating.
“Finland is quite a socialized country, with the state taking care of one’s needs from the cradle to the grave,” says Brother Felin. This includes a system of socialized medicine where a hospital room may cost only $2 per day. Costs of eyeglasses or dentures can be claimed against one’s income tax.
Finns pay income taxes ranging from 40 to 50 percent for the middle income group, a sales tax of 12.5 percent, and a 10 percent tax to support the state church, unless they officially declare a separation from it. There’s even a special tax on their mökki (summer cottages).
Rents and the general cost of living are also high, with a current inflation rate of 15 percent. Many mothers work just to help pay for rent and food, according to Ville-Matti Karumo, supervisor for a business machine company in Helsinki, and a former branch president. He calls a two-bedroom apartment “an achievement.”
All education in Finland is free except for privately owned kindergartens. Children start grade school at the age of seven, and they complete their formal education at 16.
Then they may prepare for either vocational school or education at a university. All boys are subject to military service at 19 and serve for nine months (11 months if they want to be officers), but this can be deferred until they complete their schooling.
According to Brother Karumo, only one student in ten qualifies for a university education, which possibly is the basis of a better-paying job, but is not a sign of status. Many young men and women seek training in vocational schools for positions in industries such as textiles, porcelain and glass, agriculture, engineering, shipbuilding, and iron and steel production.
Finland imports basic metals, fuel, and oils for its industries, and the worldwide energy crisis has contributed to the high cost of living. Electricity rates have risen by 50 percent to meet the fuel costs of oil-burning generators. Gasoline costs between $1.20 and $1.30 a gallon, but public transportation is “very effective,” according to Brother Karumo.
In spite of high costs, Finns enjoy a high standard of living. Latter-day Saints share in this prosperity and in its accompanying disadvantages.
Traditionally strong family ties are weakening. Because of the lack of space, grandparents no longer live with their families. Young couples are living together under “open covenants” (avoliitto) instead of the traditional “covenant of marriage,” according to Brother Karumo.
“A very wide gulf” separates the Church’s stand on morality from the popular Finnish view, according to Robert Petersen, former missionary to Finland who has lived there for the past 13 years. The difference creates the opportunity for “a good deal of discussion” between members and their friends, and Finland Mission President Robert G. Wade reports positive results from the Church’s emphasis on the family. “In the past, more single people than families have joined the Church, but now there is a trend toward complete families.”
New converts help expand the membership (3,500 members in 1,789 families) scattered throughout the country. There are five branches in Helsinki, but even Saints who are far afield find ways to meet.
President Wade reports that more than 90 percent of the Relief Society leaders invited to a two-day seminar in Helsinki attended, even though many of them had to travel hundreds of miles.
This year, a new chapel was completed 300 miles north of Helsinki in the industrial city of Oulu; to President Wade’s knowledge, this is “the most northern Latter-day Saint chapel in the world.” The twelfth chapel in Finland is scheduled for November completion in Rauma.
In addition to the building of chapels, the Saints are building their lives. Home teachers, using expensive and time-consuming public transportation, may have to travel from 10 to 150 miles to teach up to 20 families. “But they do it,” says President Wade, “and so do the visiting teachers.”
Supplementing the Aaronic Priesthood MIA is the home seminary program. Leaders anticipated 180 enrollment in 1973 when the program began; 196 came. For two weeks during the summer, the 16- to 20-year-olds work with the full-time missionaries. Sixteen Finns are serving full-time missions in Finland and Britain, and 22 district missionaries function in four of the five mission districts.
The Finnish Saints may be among the most active in Europe when it comes to temple work. Along with other temple ordinances, they performed 2,123 endowments last year in three groups: a chartered plane carrying 97 and two summer busloads. The Swiss Temple is 3,000 miles away. President Wade points out that “the cost of living in Finland is greater than that of the United States, and yet incomes are considerably less. It requires great sacrifice on the part of the Saints to visit the temple once a year.”
A patriarchal blessing also requires sacrifice, time, and effort. The member must have an interview with his branch president, then with the mission president—a long trip for some members. Then they must travel to Switzerland, where they receive the blessing in German. It is translated into Finnish for them later.
President Wade summarizes, “We have complete faith in the Finnish Saints and in their desire to live the gospel. They are a people of integrity and deep principles, and a people to be honored and respected. We look forward to the creation of a stake in Finland and to the opportunities it will bring for greater growth and responsibilities.”